Monthly Archives: September 2011

MusicfestNW 2011 In Review

This last week/weekend found most of downtown Portland and beyond dominated by the massive musical festival that is the annual MFNW. Set over 5 hot and muggy summer days and dozens of venues around the city, it featured an outdoor stage in Pioneer Court House Square and acts ranging from the local to international. Here’s a smattering of what I caught, a fraction of the action to be sure.

Sebadoh by Daniel Cronin

My first show of the fest was one of the biggest. A headlining set by the recently reunited Archers of Loaf and a supporting set by Sebadoh, with local duo Viva Voce opening. Set in the sweltering Crystal Ballroom, the show was a shot of nostalgia with both “The Doh and The Loaf,” as Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow put it, sharing the bill at a venue show for the first time in, well, ever. Sebadoh’s set was marked by Barlow and compatriot Jason Lowenstein switching off from sludgy, slanted indie pop, to straight up punk thrashing. The trio perfectly set the stage for Archers of Loaf, and the influential 90’s rockers shot through a catalogue crossing set featuring a band that is a little older, and a little easier on the gear, but no less exciting. The wide eyed grins coming from generations of fans after the show spoke of that.

Friday was a younger version of Thursdays events, starting at the Star Theater with Seattle troublemakers BOAT cruising through a set of catchy, hooky indie rock with a Pavement-esque appeal and a deadpanned passion that had audiences signing along and throwing confetti like some kind of  house party. To contrast to that, Dirty Beaches played a set over at Dante’s with a minimal and anti-pop approach. Songwriter Alex  Zhung Hai utilizes prerecorded beats and a dissonant guitar to accompany his growling vocals in what could be a primordial soup of rock and roll. A very surreal set of music. Following that, back at the Star Theater, San Francisco psyche rockabilly band Thee Oh Sees absolutely tore the place apart with their hyperactive roots and punk rock.

Thee Oh Sees by Andy Wright

For all the frenzy and excitement of the first two days, the weekend was downright pleasant, though no less scorching. Saturday saw an outdoor show at Pionner Court House Square that featured some local and not-so-local acts. Opening up was ambient producer Eluvium, aka Portland’s Matthew Cooper, who makes wonderful music to watch shadows dance across buildings to. Next up, beloved Portland ensemble Typhoon played an appropriately rousing and spirited set. After that followed sets by Brooklyn scenesters The Antlers and Austin’s instrumental post rockers Explosions In The Sky. From there, Avi Buffalo and Blind Pilot played at the Crystal Ballroom. While the young and eager Avi Buffalo suffered from both equipment and banter failures, not to mention a sloppy set, Portland’s Blind Pilot saved the day by putting forth a solid set of both folky harmonic tunes and and their newer, more rock leaning soon-to-be-hits. This show was their official album release for We Are The Tide, and by the reaction they got at the Crystal Ballroom, bet on Blind Pilot to really take off this year.

OK, enough puns, down to the last day. With festival fatigue setting in, it was nice that Sunday was the shortest day of the week, with only the outdoor show downtown happening. Cass McCombs delivered a sublime set of music, most of it off his recently released album Wit’s End, and all of it stunning in it’s melodic simplicity. An artist who can do very much with a minimal effort, it would be nice to see him again live, maybe in a more intimate setting and one with less distracting circumstances. Headliners Band of Horses were the main attraction of the show,  and they played a fun and lively set to be sure. Thankfully, a few cuts off their superior debut album made it on the set list, as well as a few new as yet still untitled tracks that could have been worse. All in all, a fitting end to the long week.

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The New 52: DC Comics Starts Over (Sort of) with Justice League #1

As you may know by now, DC Comics is scrapping (almost) all of the last 80 or so years of their Comics and starting over with a fresh batch of 52 different #1 titles, including re-boots of every character from Superman on down. It’s a bold move, a polarizing one, with the potential to cost the publisher as many fans as it awards them. I, for one, am exactly the kind of reader DC is trying to pick up. I’ve been collecting since I was 12, but for the last ten years only pick up a handful of books a year due to budget and continuity concerns. For example, I tried following the ‘Death of Bruce Wayne’ plots last year but got lost quickly and gave up. Now, with all new plots and clean slates, I will be (tenatively) checking out a  few titles to see if this is something I can get into. After reading Justice League #1 however, it’s no sure bet.

This #1 is officially the first title of the new Universe, the only one released this week before DC starts pumping them out a dozen a week. This is our first look at a new, younger, more current group of classic superheroes. With seven figures blasting off our cover, we delve into Justice League #1. And we get…cops chasing Batman.

Huh. That…that seems like pretty familiar territory. As the text tells us, it’s “Five Years Ago” and Batman is leaping after an unidentified figure, Gotham’s finest following in helicopters, ordered to “bring them both down.” Rough. So, yea, it’s very much Year One styled mayhem here, as Bats dodges the cops and keeps up with the creep. His first line of the new Universe by the way?

what you talking 'bout?

Here’s the thing about this new Universe that I didn’t really explain yet. It’s all new…sort of. See, the minds behind this move have chosen to keep certain things going here, and set up certain characters as they were at odd times. Best case in point. Barbara Gordon is again the original Batgirl, going back on the events in Killing Joke. But, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is still Nightwing, his persona after he grew up. So, we are to presume that within the first few years of Batman’s existence, he had several Robins, a Batgirl, a Batwoman (don’t forget her) and a slew of other adventures that previously took him decades to accumulate? Does this Universe have a Jason Todd? Is he dead? Too many Questions to begin, and that’s only one character.

Anyways, Batman grabs his prey, an alien looking brute with glowing eyes, and proceeds to question this creature like it’s a regular street thug. “What were you doing at the docks?” Uh, there’s probably more pertinent questions here, Batman, like what Hell is that thing? After the alien bashes him around a little we are introduced to Green Lantern, who drives a truck through the bad guy, and seems positively stunned to find the Batman really exists. So now it’s clear what we’re doing here. Each and every member of the Justice League has to actually meet face to face. Oh man, you guys. This could take awhile. I mean, we spend the next dozen pages exploring these two beloved characters like we’ve never heard of them. Green Lantern can do what? How? Wow!

It’s totally necessary, I know, if you’re acting like no one knows each other. You gotta do it right, but this gets tedious quickly. Although I do love Lanterns reaction to finding out Batman has no actual powers.

Basically, both these guys come off as cocky, self absorbed power trippers. Lantern especially takes a cavalier attitutde to his power, much like Ryan Reynolds did this summer in theaters. Can’t help but feel like writer Geoff Johns isn’t really trying anything new as much as retelling an old tale with new dialogue bubbles. And really, that is what makes this #1 a fairly underwhelming read; it’s entertaining yes, seeing Batman do anything is entertaining. But, we are just meeting our old characters in new tights, I guess I need to know why.

So, the alien they’re kinda sorta going after as they banter (the cops are long gone threats) blows hisself up real good while Batman presumes rather than deducts everything and Lantern just acts all “I got this bro” showy and we get a brief cutaway to some high school football game outta nowhere. Well, this four page detour is all a set up to our token black hero, football star kid named Vic Stone who’ll soon com to be known a Cyborg when some crazy accident or something makes him get all bionic. I’m just guessing all that, all I now for sure is his daddy is too busy studying superheroes to come to his games, wah wah.

Anyways, the alien is dead, but he left a box. Batman presumes it’s a computer, and Lantern’s all, “hmm, it’s alien technology. You know who’s an alien? That guy Superman in Metropolis. Let’s go ask him about it.” OK, I guess that’s a good reason to go meet Superman. They do and yep, they find him, and Superman immediately looks for a fight. Typical Kal-El. And that’s where we end, with a young looking Superman ready to rumble with Batman and Green Lantern. At this pace, it should take about 8 issues to meet everyone and probably another 8 to get them to stop fighting each other and form a League of heroes. I just don’t know if this story is good enough to commit to yet. I figure that DC Comics is a pretty big beast at this point, being 52 titles strong. Surely, that’s a helluva load to get off the ground, but if Johns and crew can get it up in the air, we might get to see some interesting places. Just don’t hold your breath.

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